- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2007

BAGHDAD — Prominent Shi’ite and Sunni politicians called on Iraqi civilians to take up arms to defend themselves after a weekend of violence that claimed more than 220 lives, including 60 who died yesterday in a surge of bombings and shootings across Baghdad.

The calls reflect growing frustration with the inability of Iraqi security forces to prevent extremist attacks.

The weekend deaths included two U.S. soldiers — one killed yesterday in a bombing on the western outskirts of Baghdad and another who died in combat Saturday in Salahuddin province north of the capital, the U.S. command said. Three soldiers were wounded in yesterday”s blast.

The day”s deadliest attack occurred when a bomb struck a truckload of newly recruited Iraqi soldiers on the outskirts of Baghdad, killing 15 soldiers and wounding 20, a police official at the nearest police station said.

Also yesterday, two car bombs exploded nearly simultaneously in Baghdad”s Karradah district, killing eight persons. The area includes the offices of the Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq, the biggest Shi’ite party in parliament, and is considered among the safest parts of the capital.

But the bloodshed paled in comparison to the carnage Saturday, when a truck bomb devastated the public market in Armili, a town north of the capital whose inhabitants are mostly Shi’ites from the Turkoman ethnic minority.

There was still confusion over the death toll.

Two police officers said about 150 people were killed. Other officials put out the death toll at 115. Abbas al-Bayati, a Shi”ite Turkoman lawmaker, told reporters in Baghdad that 130 had died.

Mr. al-Bayati criticized the security situation in Armili, saying that its police force had only 30 members and that the Interior Ministry had finally responded to requests for reinforcements only two days before the attack.

In the absence of enough security forces, Mr. al-Bayati said authorities should help residents “arm themselves” for their own protection.

The call for civilians to take up arms in their own defense was echoed by the country”s Sunni Arab vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi.

“People have a right to expect from the government and security agencies protection for their lives, land, honor and property,” Mr. al-Hashimi said. “But in the case of [their] inability, the people have no choice but to take up their own defense.”

He said the government should provide communities with money, weapons and training, and “regulate their use by rules of behavior.”

The idea of organizing local communities for their own defense has caught on here in recent months after the success of Sunni Arab tribes in Anbar province, which took up arms to help drive al Qaeda from their towns and villages.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have said they hope to replicate the “Anbar model” elsewhere in the country, albeit under government supervision and control.